Category Archives: Norman Whitfield

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky Music” by Patti Labelle

Patti Labelle shares the grown of 70’s funky diva’s as it were. Right up there with Aretha and Chaka. A Philly soul sister who’d started as the lead singer of the Bluebells,as well as almost marrying Temptations member Otis Williams,the group changed their name to Labelle. This trio of Patti,Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash started off backing up singer-songwriter Laura Nyro on her soul/R&B based 1971 album Gonna Take a Miracle. Several years later,the trio unleashed a major hit in “Lady Marmalade”,written by Allen Toussaint. It became a key number in ushering New Orleans funky soul straight into the disco era.

The trio began having creative difference,coinciding with their music declining in commercial success. After Hendryx suffered a nervous breakdown after a show in Baltimore,Patti decided to fulfill her own career and be a diplomat all at once by suggesting the trio begin perusing solo projects. Patti signed with producer David Rubinson,then working with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and who’d also helmed Labelle’s final 70’s album Chameleon. Patti Labelle’s self title solo debut came out in 1977. My favorite song on it, written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was called “Funky Music”.

A thick bass line starts off the song playing with a rocking verve about it. It’s soon totally accompanied by a slow crawling chicken scratch guitar. The drum then kicks in with with a medium tempo,snare heavy hit. Throughout the song,a round and bumping filtered “duck face” slap bass keeps a steady percussive vibe going. The horns on this song play in harmonized unison to the choruses and refrains. On the choruses,Patti is joined by a group of all star female backup singers for a strong gospel/soul choir. On the bridge,the drum starts swinging low on the cymbals before coming back up again before the song fades out.

Marrying Patti Labelle’s soul shouting dramatic soprano voice to the songwriting of Norman Whitfield was just about as ingenious as her groups pairing with Toussaint several years earlier. As the disco era was at it’s peak,Patti threw down a song that was raw and bass heavy funk as anything Sly Stone had done earlier in the decade. And the slow,punchy groove of it all really allowed the gospel joy always present in Patti’s voice to sour and groove high with the chunky bass/guitar/horn interaction. It’s one of the earliest and best examples of Patti Labelle giving up the funk during her solo career.

 

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Filed under 1970's, chicken scratch guitar, David Rubinson, Disco, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Norman Whitfield, Patti Labelle, Philly Soul, slap bass